Antisemitism from the right and left

Colleyville attack, Holocaust remembrance, and persistent anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

President Joe Biden wanted to upgrade the US State Department’s Special Envoy for Combating and Monitoring Anti-Semitism to an ambassadorship. In July, Biden nominated Emory University professor and esteemed Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt. Unfortunately, for Biden, the Senate must confirm her position. However, Republicans are holding up her nomination in the Senate. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is refusing to allow Democrats to schedule her hearing. Troublesome, especially with the rising anti-Semitism. Lipstadt accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of “white supremacy/nationalism,” when he claimed he would have been more afraid of the far left, Black Lives Matter movement, or Antifa at the January 6, 2021, Capitol Riots rather than the far-right radicals that invaded Congress. [1] Despite anti-Semitic attacks such as Colleyville, Republicans, who are supposed to be pro-Israel, is playing politics when American Jews are in such peril. The episode is again putting her nomination and confirmation delay in the spotlight and the anti-Semitism from the right and also left.

Anti-Semitism globally is more associated with the far-right politically. The rise of Donald Trump’s presidency and the August 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and riots of right-wing extremists and white supremacists chanting anti-Semitic diatribes, such as “Jews will not replace us,” and chants often associated with Hitler and Nazism. [2] University of Chicago historian David Nirenberg told the Atlantic, “The extreme right considers many people their threat. But it always, always, always comes back to the Jews.” [3] It’s difficult not to include Israel and anti-Zionism in the anti-Semitism narrative when former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a leading marcher in the Charlottesville rally, preaches, “Jewish Zionists control the media and American political system.” [4]

McGill University Historian Professor Gil Troy finds that the left and far-left are just as much contributing to the new anti-Semitism as the right. However, with most American Jews liberals and card-carrying Democrats, they are less likely to blame the worst elements of the left for recent anti-Semitism. “In a polarized polity, too many in the overwhelmingly liberal American-Jewish community either ignore or cover up left-wing complicity in the New Antisemitism, meaning anti-Zionist Jew-hatred. Call it Zio-washing bleaching the anti-Zionism out of modern antisemitism.” [5] Writing amid the latest Israel-Gaza war, Troy recounted, “The antisemitic attacks and rhetoric during the latest conflict was fueled by the anti-Zionist left’s sweeping denunciations of Israel and Zionism. Wrapping their cause in Black Lives Matters rhetoric and righteousness, pro-Palestinian and pro-Islamist goons have committed many of the most recent anti-Jewish street crimes.” [6]

Jewish historians, sociologists, and journalists vary whether anti-Israel sentiment anti-Zionism is a part of anti-Semitism and even fueling recent hatred and attacks on Jews. University of Toronto’s Robert Bryma and York University’s Rhonda Lenton defined anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in their essay “Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism and Canada in Context.” Bryma and Lenton write, “For purposes of our analysis, we define antisemitism as opposition to the notion that Jews should be treated in the same way as non-Jews, with the expression of this opposition ranging from mild prejudice to genocidal action. We define anti-Israelism as opposition to a range of conditions, ranging from specific state policies to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.” [7]

Troy believes that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism, arguing, “anti-Zionism feeds Jew-hatred.” [8] Steven Windmueller, the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles, explains, “Anti-Semitism must be seen as a specific ideology of belief about Jews and Judaism as well as a prescription for a particular form of behavior or action, directed against the Jewish people. Those who embrace this age-old form of political practice have extracted specific elements of anti-Judaism from the pages of history or from the current social rhetoric about Jews and Israel.” [9]

New York Times columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens concurred that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Stephens wrote the piece “Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism? Someone Didn’t Get the Memo” in May 2021, amid the latest Gaza war, where Palestinian disturbances and rocket attacks led Israel to take action. The fighting lasted ten days, from May 10 until a ceasefire on May 21. At the time, attacks that included multiple times over on Jews worldwide occurred. Stephens noted, Progressives “have indulged an anti-Israel movement that keeps descending into the crudest forms of anti-Semitism.” [10]

Bryma and Lenton argue the opposite, “We take issue with both the new antisemitism thesis and its most ardent critics. We argue that a correlation exists between antisemitism and anti-Israelism, but the correlation varies widely in strength by social context. It follows that, in some cases, extremists on both sides of the debate are correct. However, in most cases they are not.” [11]

Despite some Jew’s and non-Jews viewpoint, most American Jews realize that anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Among American Jews, 82 percent realize that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) Movement has “mostly anti-Semitic or some antisemitic supporters.” They view remarks questioning Israel’s right to exist and American Jewry’s dual loyalty as anti-Semitic, “Israel has no right to exist,”

“American Jews are loyal to Israel and disloyal to America,” 81 and 85 percent as antisemitic. American Jews have almost zero tolerance for Holocaust denial, with 94 percent finding the comment “The Holocaust has been exaggerated,” as anti-Semitic. [12]

Jewish college students find the far-left and the far-right as anti-Semitic threats on campus. Still, as Troy noted and Pew Research Center indicates, young liberal Jews find the far-right much more of a threat than the far-left on campus, 61 to 45 percent. Most Jewish college students view anti-Israel sentiment, anti-Zionism, and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, only 54 percent equate anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism. Ironically, very few 20 percent know anyone or themselves experienced anti-Semitism on campus. [13]

Reform community in Colleyville, Texas, and its rabbi were not the stereotypical targets for an anti-Semitic attack in the US. The liberal congregation was well integrated into the community and welcomed a diverse Jewish community. Rabbi Charlie as his congregation affectionately called him is involved in inter-faith activities that support diversity and LGBT rights. Liberal values were held near and a priority. A former congregant even accused the rabbi of being against the second amendment, not allowing guns within the sanctuary, and criticizing Israel to the point of calling it an apartheid state, which Rabbi Cytron-Walker vehemently denied to JTA. [14]

Usually, such assimilated views lead to more acceptances. Unfortunately, in this case, being Jews was the qualification; showing identification with most American views does not protect from anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is all around and it does not matter how American Jews align politically and socially. As Gil Troy indicates in a Jerusalem Post opinion piece, entitled, “Antisemitism, Holocaust denial: First they gassed us, now they gaslight us,” “Obviously, many today deny Jew-hatred to avoid confronting Islamist Jew-hatred. But this is an old story. This phantom hatred takes many forms. Some hate Jews for standing out, others hate Jews for fitting in; some hate from the Right, others from the Left. Amid this cacophony of bigotry, people pick convenient targets while dodging uncomfortable truths. They condemn the antisemites they hate anyway, overlooking any allies’ antisemitism. Amid such partisan-clouded confusion, evil flourishes.” [15]

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, For Jews, Going to Services Is an Act of Courage” Deborah Lipstadt conveyed that despite the anti-Semitism we are strong. Lipstadt expressed, “We are shaken. We are not OK. But we will bounce back. We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA.” [16] While Andrew Rehfeld, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) seminary, Ohio, rightfully expresses, “When an attack on any one of us happens, we’re not Reform, or Orthodox or Conservative. We are a Jewish people.” [17] With anti-Semitism still a physical threat to world Jewry, we all must put aside our political, social, religious, and geographical differences, kind to each other despite varying viewpoints, and stand strongly united because if we will not, who will be? [18]

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) and historian. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South,” “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Anti-Semitism,” and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over fifteen years of experience in education and political journalism.

[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/580121-adl-jewish-groups-in-rare-move-press-senate-to-immediately-consider

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[5] https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/when-it-comes-to-anti-israel-attacks-on-jews-its-time-to-name-the-enemy/

[6] https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/when-it-comes-to-anti-israel-attacks-on-jews-its-time-to-name-the-enemy/

[7] https://www.jewishdatabank.org/content/upload/bjdb/2018_Survey_Jews_Canada_Antisemitism,_Israelism_and_Canada_(Brym,_Lenton).pdf

[8] https://www.jpost.com/opinion/we-need-to-focus-on-the-jews-that-love-israel-not-those-who-are-anti-opinion-684524

[9] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/reflections-on-global-anti-semitism-its-implications-and-impact/

[10]

[11] https://www.jewishdatabank.org/content/upload/bjdb/2018_Survey_Jews_Canada_Antisemitism,_Israelism_and_Canada_(Brym,_Lenton).pdf

[12]

[13] https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2021/AmericanJews

[14] https://www.jta.org/2022/01/19/united-states/the-texas-rabbi-who-escaped-a-hostage-situation-wants-to-correct-the-record

[15] https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-694567

[16] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/opinion/texas-colleyville-antisemitism.html

[17] https://www.jta.org/2022/01/19/united-states/the-texas-rabbi-who-escaped-a-hostage-situation-wants-to-correct-the-record

[18] https://abcnews.go.com/US/american-jewish-groups-leaders-send-support-texas-synagogue/story?id=82308225&fbclid=IwAR2TlKq4V4qOVIUuocmuuc1xGbhBlBQxFPq2wB1MtfDgPKYQx6Fjelbi48Q

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Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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